Why could the needle of suspicion ostensibly point at Chidambaram
- Rommel Rodrigues
- Feb 14, 2022
MUMBAI: The final order of the market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) against the National Stock Exchange (NSE) and its former top management hierarchy had set off a streak of jocular narratives in news reports that leaves out the hardcore facts and focus only on the laughable aspects of the 190-page order by Ananta Barua.
While on the subject, just saying, Barua is one of the oldest members in the board who has been associated since 1992, the year when NSE was incorporated (it got recognition as a stock exchange a year later in 1993) and apart from being involved in the framing of new regulations for the securities market, he has naturally seen it and knows it all over the years. Currently, he is on a two years extension till 2023.
Coming back on Barua's order which came late evening on February 11, 2022, the contents of which has provoked a barrage of news articles, television debates and online commentary all revolving around the revelation about the absurd filmy phraseology used by NSE's former CEO and MD Chitra Ramkrishna, in running the exchange.
The order reads like a cheap thriller novel as Chitra revealed that she was running the institution which claims to be among the world's top stock exchanges with a current market cap of close to the US $3.5 trillion, under the influence of a 'Yogi' a 'Siddha Purusha' who resided in the high hills of Himalayas.
She has spiced up the script by claiming that she had met him on banks of the Ganges nearly 20 years ago and over the years has taken his guidance on many personal and professional matters and that he manifested himself at will. This is the omnipotent friendly ghost that the regulator claims she had shared a lot of intricate details on the functioning and hierarchy at NSE, not only violating all corporate governance norms but amounts to sacrilege on the millions of small investors who reposed their faith in the exchange.
Denying that the invisible mortal was someone from NSE Governing Board at any point in time she does reveal that the holy spirit had his own email id, 'firstname.lastname@example.org' and admits to having provided him all the information of the exchange. The absurdity does not end here, she has also been 'chilling' with this spirit in Seychelles and other places and they have exchanged music.
These reports exposing how the highest authority of the NSE was being influenced by a third outside person in running the exchange may have triggered widespread newscast, the bizarre set of revelations has blemished the reputation of the biggest financial marketplace of our country. But while we are taking things with the pinch of salt, on the other hand, the whole world is having a hearty laugh. If nothing, the disclosure has reduced the NSE's stock to a laughing stock.
Let's understand one thing here, the 'yogi' is not a persona non grata and like me, every seasoned financial journalist who has tracked the nefarious activities at this place would know that he is one of the trio, whom insiders slyly referred to as the Trimurti. He was not part of the board every but he was part of everything Chitra did.
This trio was Chitra and a couple, one of who was on the highest-grossing payrolls of the exchange and she had made the appointments right on the day she took charge subverting all norms laid down for the appointment of key personnel, leave alone regulatory compliances. This obscure person is who according to the SEBI order Chitra refers to as Kanchan.
The appointment was of Anand Subramanian as a strategic advisor to herself at a package of a mind-bogglingly Rs. 1.7 crore, compared to his last drawn salary of Rs 13 lakhs at a logistics company. By her own admission to the regulator, Chitra has said that she knew Anand through another employee of NSE Sunitha who was heading NSE's South operations. The NSE board did not question Chitra on this and nor did they raise a red flag when Anand was magically promoted to the position of NSE’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) and the salary was raised to an unbelievable Rs 5 crore.
In Barua's order, he says that he has found murky details of Chitra sharing very sensitive exchange, data, key financials, dividend scenario, HR policies and even consulted him for key employee appraisals. So all the cub reporters who are speculating a variety of things including people from the finance ministry, need to get their focus right and they will spot the biggest third cog in the wheel.
As the agencies waiting for a cue to sweep in will in days to come to expose this yogi, and the role of Anand as acting in concert will become public, it will also renew focus in the investigation in NSE's co-location scam (Colo) which was until now in cold storage despite multiple agencies like SEBI, the Income-tax Department, ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) looking into it.
And when the pandora box of the Colo scam will open it will not only invariably focus on the role of Chitra and everyone who was involved in it (there is a complex string of people, consultants, bureaucrats, government officials) involved in this multi-billion rupee scam) but it will also bring to the fore the role of Indian politician and lawyer Palaniappan Chidambaram in the whole murky fraud.
Chidambaram is not a small entity by any standards, he served as the Union Minister of Finance (FM) four times and much to the chagrin of an economist Prime Minister he had the full backing of the party leadership. Chidambaram has been embroiled in many controversies, the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme (VDIS) 1997, the participatory note embroilment, most recently the INX Media, Aircel-Maxis case. However, his role in the Colo scam is so blatant that it just falls short of calling him the kingpin.
While being in office as the FM, Chidambaram has been very crafty in ways he dealt with the regulator SEBI and the marketplace NSE choosing his favourite acolytes as the heads. Right from controversial bureaucrats like C. B. Bhave, KP Krishnan, the then Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Finance to the favouring the appointment of Ravi Narain as the MD and CEO of NSE and then to replace him with Chitra Ramakrishna, the super hand of Chidambaram has been in play.
If the regulators and law enforcing agencies do an honest investigation the fact will no doubt come out, as to how these group of blue eyes boys were used by the master to not only perpetrated one of the biggest scams but also to witch hound several entities that posed a threat to their endeavours.
The story of the destruction of the National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL) in 2013 has been well documented and it will require a series of articles to explain it however it would suffice to say that the former FM and his favourite bureaucrats did not like the meteoric rise of first-generation entrepreneur Jignesh Shah, the promoter of NSEL and favoured NSE. It's an open secret that Chidambaram as the FM at that time personally took upon himself to ensure that Shah is virtually annihilated from the exchange space.
For the humungous magnitude of the Colo scam, the regulators have taken only tepid action while the agencies have so far moved with a very diluted and light action. However the core point here is now that with the SEBI order, the pandora's box has been open again, it is time to pursue it to its logical end and if it's conducted impartially it will definitely lead to the name of Chidambaram. The question is, is there the will and the intent? Only time will tell.
Rommel is our Editor. He has close to three decades of experience in leading publishing houses including, Fortune India, Observer of Business & Politics, The New Indian Express etc.View Reporter News